The Institutions of Eminence Haven't Been Selected Yet. Who's Responsible?

The government is in a quandary because the body it tasked with picking deserving universities has done more than it was asked to.

The Government of India launched the  Institutions of Eminence (IoE) initiative in 2017. It sought to pick 20 IOEs – 10 public and 10 private universities – to break into the ranks of the top 500 institutions worldwide.

In July 2018, based on the Empowered Experts Committee (EEC) recommendations, the government selected six IOEs (three public and three private):

  1. IISc Bengaluru
  2. IIT Bombay
  3. IIT Delhi
  4. BITS Pilani
  5. Manipal Academy of Higher Education
  6. Jio Institute

In the process, the government left out five public universities also recommended by the EEC: IITs Kharagpur and Madras, Delhi University, Jadavpur University and Anna University.

In the first week of December 2018, the EEC forwarded the names of 19 institutions for consideration of eminence status to the University Grants Commission (UGC). At the time, the government and the EEC reportedly differed over the number of institutions to be considered ’eminent’. The EEC wanted all of its 30 recommendations to go through whereas the government preferred sticking to 20 as originally stipulated.

Also read: After UGC, Expert Committee Also Disappoints in Selecting Institutions of Eminence

But almost a month later, the government hasn’t said anything about the 14 remaining IoEs. And although the UGC has to forward these names to the Ministry of Human Resource Development within 15 days, this hasn’t happened yet either.

What’s going on? Apart from being mum on the other 14 institutes, the government hasn’t announced the names of the five universities that the EEC had recommended in July 2018. It’s also puzzling that they haven’t yet been inducted into the IoEs group, especially when the government can’t go wrong in announcing their selection and deliberating on the merits of the recently-recommended institutions after.

And why is the EEC seeking eminence status for 30 institutes when the government’s initiative mentioned only 20?

The delay may have something to do with the EEC’s new list of 19 universities, which includes sectoral and/or specialised institutions unlikely to become world-ranked universities, and its insistence that 30 institutions be accorded ’eminent’ status.

Private universities: Satya Bharti University; Krea University; Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham; Vellore Institute of Technology; Jamia Hamdard University; Shiv Nadar University; Azim Premji University; Ashoka University; Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology; O.P. Jindal Global University; Indian Institute for Human Settlements; and Institute of Public Health Sciences.

Public universities: Banaras Hindu University (BHU); Tezpur University; Savitribai Phule Pune University; University of Hyderabad; Aligarh Muslim University; Panjab University; and Andhra University.

The new list contradicts the EEC’s own report to the government in mid-2018. In that report, the EEC referred to the UGC Guidelines and the UGC Regulations (both 2017) and said that its goal was “to assess the potential of an institution to be globally ranked among the top 500 in 10 years and eventually among the top 100.”

The EEC report’s discussion on sectoral/specialised institutions is interesting here. The EEC noted that several public institutions had applied for ’eminence’ status. It praised the achievements of some but criticised those that had “applied for recognition under the scheme most probably attracted by the financial dispensation and not because they stand a reasonable chance of achieving the stiff goal of being within 500 of world university rankings in 10 years.”

The committee then went beyond its mandate and proposed a category of ‘Special Institutions’. As stated in the report:

The EEC would like to recognise a number of applicant institutions who hold great potential to reach national and global prominence in a singular field of study, e.g. management, agriculture, technology, medicine, etc. … However, it does not believe that the IoE program, targeted to build world-class universities that are measured against broader benchmarks and expected to produce diversified outcomes, is the right avenue to support their future development.

Therefore, it recommended “the government establish a special program for standalone institutions, invest in them and allow them to excel on the world stage in their own chosen field.”

Also read: UGC’s Laziness Has Led to Needless ‘Institutions of Eminence’ Controversies

These recommendations were well-intended – but the government had asked it to select eminent institutions and not recommend ‘Special Institutions’. As a result, it’s not surprising that the government now finds itself in a quandary. It had asked the EEC to recommend institutions. In the first instance, the EEC proposed 11 of which the government selected six. The second time, the EEC recommended 19 and seems dead-set on all being qualified as ’eminent’.

At this juncture, the Government of India should quickly stamp its final authority on the matter and do what it first set out to do: select those universities capable of breaking into world university rankings as IoEs and ignore the EEC’s recommendations.

Pushkar (@PushHigherEd) has a PhD in political science (McGill University) and is currently director of The International Centre Goa. The views expressed here are personal.